Soccer talk has picked up steam in the past few months. To hear the blog polls tell it, Boise is a shoo-in to land a minor league team for the professional soccer club the Seattle Sounders.
Right now, no United Soccer Leagues Pro team is moving to Boise. But promoters hope that a year from now – after a projected international friendly soccer match in Boise – things will be different.
“To me, that’s when we would start having conversations,” said Bill Taylor, president of Idaho Youth Soccer Association.
IYSA inadvertently got the local buzz going about a USL Pro team for Boise. This spring, the Seattle Sounders, one of the most fan-driven team in Major League Soccer, let it be known they want to launch a USL Pro team, a minor league team for its young prospects, in 2015.
Boise was drawn into the talk in April when the Sounder at Heart blogger posted a poll asking which venue in the Pacific Northwest would be best for the team: Starfire Sports Complex in Tukwila, Everett, Tacoma, Bellingham, Eastern Washington or Boise.
Boise got 86 percent of the 6,338 vote.
Ballot stuffing might have played a role.
“When the poll came out, we let the membership know about it,” said Craig Warner, IYSA’s executive director. “Within 24 hours, it went super viral.”
Professional soccer talk in the Treasure Valley started three years ago when private and public officials banded together to form the the Better Boise Coalition. Their ambition was to build a new multi-use stadium closer to downtown than the Hawks baseball stadium,which is 5 miles from the downtown core. The stadium would be primarily intended for the Boise Hawks baseball team, but a minor league soccer franchise was in the talks in 2011 already.
For a while, stadium talk was everywhere. The coalition quieted down a year or two ago.
“Frankly, we put our advocating efforts on hold,” said Bill Connors, coalition founder and CEO of the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce. “We didn’t think the city and the community could do a convention center expansion and stadium at the same time.”
But the Sounder at Heart poll result quickly flowed Connors’ way.
“It’s reawakened our group,” he said.
The Better Boise Coalition had identified a few sites for a new stadium. The most favored is near 27th Street and Main Street, west of downtown.
“Part of what makes this attractive for us at the Chamber is the economic element,” Connors said. “It’s about a downtown family venue.”
Leaders for the Boise Hawks could not be reached for comment.
Taylor, the IYSA president, has contacts within Major League Soccer and also at the Seattle Sounders. He’s had some “very informal” talks with Sounders officials.
“There’s been some skepticism on their part,” Taylor acknowledged. “Their reservation is it’s too far away. Do we have the fan base for them?”
Taylor and Warner have full confidence the Treasure Valley would show up in droves for pro soccer. USL Pro averages about 2,500 people per game across 14 teams, with the top team averages about 8,000 and several teams under 1,000.
Warner believes Boise could draw 8,000 to 9,000 on a nightly basis, while Taylor more conservatively estimates 4,000 to 5,000.
“Anything above 1,500 is viable,” Taylor said.
The Sounders are in Major League Soccer, the top professional league in the U.S. and Canada. Unlike baseball, basketball and American football, the top U.S. league generally has a lower profile than leagues in Spain, England and other European countries. USL Pro is the second-highest domestic minor league, below the North American Soccer League, though USL Pro teams can be tied to Major League Soccer teams. Cities with teams now are Phoenix; Charleston, S.C.; Dayton, Ohio; Harrisburg, Penn.; Oklahoma City; Orlando, Fla., Pittsburgh, Richmond, Va., Rochester, N.Y.; Charlotte and Wilmington, N.C.; and Los Angeles, Irvine, Sacramento and Calif., New teams are expected in Austin, Texas; Colorado Springs, Colo.; Louisville, Ky.; St. Louis; and Tulsa, Okla. soon with more teams expected.
Boise will test its pro soccer mettle July 29, 2015, when the Athletic Club de Bilbao from Spain’s La Liga – the country’s top soccer league – test the blue turf at Boise State University against a yet-to-be named Major League Soccer opponent.
“This will be the biggest sporting event Idaho has ever seen,” Taylor said.
The Basque Studies Foundation at Boise State University and IYSA are working together to bring Athletic Bilbao to Boise. Bilbao is the largest city in the Basque region of Spain, and Boise has the largest Basque concentration outside of Spain.
“I think we need to have a good showing of support for the event next July 29,” Taylor said.